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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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The South Corridor, where the portraits of former Prime Ministers are displayed, links Confederation Hall to the Commons Chamber. At the west end of the corridor is the spacious, high‑ceilinged foyer of the House of Commons, which may also be accessed from the Members’ entrance at the western end of the Centre Block. On the four walls of the foyer, just below the balcony which overlooks it from the floor above, is a series of 10 bas‑relief sculpture panels depicting 25,000 years of Canadian history from the arrival of the aboriginal peoples to that of the United Empire Loyalists in the late eighteenth century.[30] Opening off the foyer are the doors to the south lobby which leads into the Chamber itself.[31] The doors, known as the Canada Doors, are made of white oak and trimmed with hand‑wrought iron. The Canada Doors are usually open only for the Speaker’s Parade, the Speech from the Throne, and Royal Assent ceremonies. Members use the smaller doors on either side of the Canada Doors that lead into the south lobby. A second set of doors in the south lobby lead into the Chamber while doors on the west and east sides lead into the government and opposition lobbies. The lobbies also open onto the Chamber.

Each day when the House meets to conduct business, the Speaker’s Parade[32] leaves the Speaker’s office and passes through the Speaker’s Corridor, the Hall of Honour, and the hall connecting the Hall of Honour to the Chamber. The Parade enters the south lobby of the House through the Canada Doors and proceeds into the Chamber.

The Chamber itself is rectangular in shape, measuring approximately 21 metres in length and 16 metres in width; it is also sheeted with Tyndall limestone as well as white oak and, like its counterpart at Westminster, it is decorated in green.[33] (See Figure 6.3, The House of Commons Chamber.) The 14.7‑metre high ceiling is made of linen canvas, hand‑painted with the provincial and territorial coats of arms.

The floral emblems of the 10 provinces and 2 of the territories are depicted in 12 stained‑glass windows on the east, west and north walls of the Chamber.[34] On the east and west walls, above the Members’ galleries and between the stained‑glass windows, is the noted British North America Act (BNA) series of sculptures. It consists of 12 separate bas‑relief sculptures in Indiana limestone. Each one depicts, in symbolic and story form, the federal roles and responsibilities arising out of the BNA Act (now called the Constitution Act, 1867).[35]


Image of the physical layout of the House of Commons. At the top of the image are the public galleries. Below the galleries, in the centre of the image and the Chamber, are the Speaker's chair, the seats for the Pages, the Table for the Clerks and Table Officers, the Mace sitting on the Table, seats for the Proceedings and Verification Officers, and finally the Sergeant-at-Arms desk at the South end of the Chamber. To the left of the image are the seats for government members and above them various galleries for visitors. To the right of the image are the seats for opposition members and above them various galleries for visitors.

*   Seating

The Chamber is divided by a wide central aisle and is furnished on either side with tiered rows of desks and chairs, facing into the centre. The desks are equipped with a locked compartment in which Members may store belongings, microphones, an electrical outlet for laptop computers, and access to the Internet. Government Members sit to the Speaker’s right, opposition Members to the left.[36] The Prime Minister and Cabinet sit in the front rows of the government side; directly across the floor from the Prime Minister sits the Leader of the Official Opposition who is flanked by Members of his or her party. The second‑ranked opposition party and all other recognized parties in the House sit with their leaders usually to the left of the Official Opposition, closer to the Bar of the House. Traditionally, the front‑row seats to the left of the Speaker are reserved for leading Members of the opposition parties, and opposition parties are allocated front‑row seats in proportion to their numbers in the House.[37] The distance across the floor of the House between the government and opposition benches is 3.96 metres, said to be equivalent to two swords’ length.[38] When there are more government Members than can be accommodated on the Speaker’s right, some are seated on the left, usually in the seats closest to the Speaker. Similarly, when there are more opposition Members than can be accommodated on the Speaker’s left, the remaining opposition Members are seated on the right, closer to the Bar of the House. Members of parties not recognized in the House and independent Members are assigned seats at the discretion of the Speaker.

All Members of Parliament have their own assigned seats in the Chamber. Should the number of seats in the House be increased following a decennial census, additional desks are installed. The allocation of seats in the House is the responsibility of the Speaker and is carried out in collaboration with the party Whips.[39] Seat assignments may change from time to time, but the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are always seated in the same places. It is customary for seats to be assigned near the Chair for the use of the Deputy Speaker and other Chair Occupants when they are not presiding over the House; no such allocation is made for the Speaker.[40]

*   The Chair

The Speaker’s Chair stands on a dais[41] at the north end of the Chamber with the flag displayed to the right of the Speaker.[42] In the years after Confederation, it was the custom for departing Speakers to take their chairs with them and a new Chair to be made for the incumbent.[43] This custom ceased in 1916 when the Chair then in use was destroyed in the fire. A new Chair arrived in 1921 as a gift from the British branch of what is now the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.[44] This Chair is an exact replica of the original Speaker’s Chair at Westminster, made circa 1849, and then destroyed when the British House of Commons was bombed in 1941. It is approximately four metres high, surmounted by a canopy of carved wood and the Royal Coat of Arms. The oak used for the carving of the Royal Arms was taken from the roof of Westminster Hall, which was built in 1397.

In recent years, the Chair has undergone some minor renovations. Microphones and speakers have been installed and lights placed overhead. The armrests now offer a writing surface and a small storage space. A hydraulic lift was also installed to permit more comfortable seating for the various occupants of the Chair.[45] At the foot of the Chair, visible only to its occupant, is a computer screen which allows the Chair Occupant to see information generated by the computers at the Table, the countdown timer used to monitor the length of speeches and interventions when time limits apply, and a portion of the unofficial rotation list for Members wishing to speak. The screen also displays a digital feed from the television cameras in the Chamber, allowing the Speaker to see the image being broadcast.[46]

At the foot of the dais below the Speaker’s Chair is a bench where some of the House of Commons pages are stationed during sittings of the House. The pages are first-year university students employed by the House of Commons to carry messages and deliver documents to Members during sittings of the House.[47]

A door behind the Speaker’s Chair opens onto a corridor, called the Speaker’s Corridor, leading directly to the Speaker’s chambers. Hanging in this hallway are portraits of past Speakers of the House.[48]

*   The Table

A short distance in front of the dais and the Speaker’s Chair is a long oak table where the Clerk of the House, chief procedural advisor to the Speaker, sits with other Table Officers.[49] The Clerk sits at the north end of the Table, with Table Officers along its right‑and left‑hand sides. The Clerk’s chair was made in 1873. After the death in 1902 of the then Clerk, Sir John Bourinot, the chair was presented to his widow. In 1940, it was donated back to the House by the family.

Each of the three seating positions at the Table is equipped with a computer with wireless keyboard, mouse and microphone. The computers are used to keep the records,[50] to manage the rotation lists of Members wishing to speak, to relay information to the Chair and to send and receive electronic mail to and from other branches of the House. The computers also have access to the digital feed from the television cameras in the Chamber. The Mace rests at the south end of the Table. Also on the Table is a collection of parliamentary reference texts for consultation by Members and Table Officers, as well as a pair of bookends, a calendar stand, inkstand and seal press.[51]

*   The Mace

The Mace is the ornamental staff, symbol of the authority of the Speaker, which rests on the Table during sittings of the House. In the Middle Ages, the mace was an officer’s weapon; it was made of metal with a flanged or spiked head and was used to break through chain‑mail or plate armour.[52] In the twelfth century, the Sergeants‑at‑Arms of the King’s Bodyguard were equipped with maces. These maces, stamped with the Royal Arms and carried by the Sergeants in the exercise of their powers of arrest without warrant, became recognized symbols of the King’s authority. Maces were also carried by civic authorities.

Royal Sergeants‑at‑Arms began to be assigned to the Commons early in the fifteenth century. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Sergeant’s mace had evolved from a weapon of war to an ornately embellished emblem of office. The Sergeant‑at‑Arms’ power to arrest without warrant enabled the Commons to arrest or commit persons who offended them, without having to resort to the ordinary courts of law.[53] This penal jurisdiction is the basis of the concept of parliamentary privilege and, since the exercise of this privilege depended on the powers vested in the Royal Sergeant‑at‑Arms, the Mace—his emblem of office—was identified with the growing privileges of the Commons and became recognized as the symbol of the authority of the House and of the Speaker through the House.[54]

At Confederation, the House of Commons’ Mace was that of the former Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.[55] It had survived the burning of the Parliament building in Montreal in 1849,[56] as well as two fires in Quebec City in 1854,[57] but was lost in the great fire of February 3, 1916. When the House met in the Victoria Memorial Museum (as it was then known) in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the Senate lent the House its Mace. For the following three weeks, the Mace belonging to the Ontario Legislature was used until a temporary Mace, made of wood, was fashioned. The Mace currently in use is a replica of the original. Made of silver covered with heavy gilt, it is 1.47 metres long and weighs 7.9 kilograms. It was a gift from the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs of London and was presented in May 1917.[58] The wooden Mace was kept and since 1977 has been used in the Chamber on the anniversary of the date of the fire.[59]

The Mace is integral to the functioning of the House; since the late seventeenth century it has been accepted that the Mace must be present for the House to be properly constituted.[60] The guardian of the Mace is the Sergeant‑at‑Arms,[61] who carries it on the right shoulder in and out of the Chamber at the beginning and end of each sitting of the House.[62] At the opening of a sitting of the House, the Mace is laid across the foot of the Table with its crown pointing to the government side of the House. When the House sits as a Committee of the Whole, it is placed on brackets below the foot of the Table.[63] During the election of a Speaker, the Mace rests on a cushion on the floor beneath the Table. During a sitting, it is considered a breach of decorum for Members to pass between the Speaker and the Mace.[64] Members have also been found in contempt of the House for touching the Mace during proceedings in the Chamber.[65] When the House is adjourned, the Mace is kept in the Speaker’s office. During longer adjournments and recesses, it may be displayed in or near the Commons Chamber, although this has not occurred in recent years.

*   The Bar of the House

The Bar is a brass rod extending across the floor of the Chamber inside its south entrance. It is a barrier past which uninvited representatives of the Crown (as well as other non‑Members) are not welcome.[66] The Sergeant‑at‑Arms, or an assistant, sits at a desk on the opposition side of the Chamber and inside the Bar.

Individuals may be summoned to appear before the Bar of the House in order to answer to the authority of the House. If someone is judged to be in contempt of the House—that is, guilty of an offence against the dignity or authority of Parliament—the House may summon the person to appear and order that he or she be reprimanded by the Speaker in the name of and with the full authority of the House. On a number of occasions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, individuals were summoned to appear before the Bar of the House. Since 1913, there have been only two instances of the House requiring someone to appear at the Bar to be reprimanded.[67]

On occasion, individuals may be summoned to the Bar for reasons other than to be admonished by the Speaker. Witnesses to be examined by the House may stand at the Bar and reply to questions posed by Members.[68] As well, the House may call individuals to the Bar in order to pay tribute to them.[69]

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*   The Galleries

Overlooking the floor of the House on both sides and at both ends of the Chamber are galleries which can accommodate more than 500 people. (See Figure 6.3, The House of Commons Chamber.) In the gallery facing the Speaker’s Chair, called the Ladies’ Gallery,[70] the first rows are reserved for the diplomatic corps and for other distinguished guests; the remaining rows are reserved for the visiting public. At the opposite end of the Chamber, immediately above the Speaker’s Chair, is the Press Gallery. Admittance is restricted to members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery[71] (one of the galleries in which note‑taking is permitted). Immediately behind the Press Gallery is another public gallery.[72] On the side of the Chamber facing the government benches are three galleries: one for guests of government Members, another for Senators and their guests, and another one for guests of the Prime Minister and the Speaker. Only from the Speaker’s Gallery can distinguished visitors (such as heads of state, heads of government and parliamentary delegations invited to Canada and celebrated Canadians) be recognized and introduced to the House, and only by the Speaker. Members other than the Speaker may not refer to the presence of any visitors in the galleries at any time.[73] On the other side of the Chamber, facing the opposition benches, a gallery is reserved for departmental officials (the other gallery in which note‑taking is permitted), another for guests of the Leader of the Opposition, and two others for guests of Members of other opposition parties.

The doors to the galleries are opened at the start of each sitting of the House, after prayers are read.[74] For reasons of decorum and security, photography, reading and sketching materials, and note‑taking (with the above exceptions) are not permitted in the galleries. Coats, briefcases, notebooks, photographic equipment and the like may not be carried into the galleries.[75] During the taking of recorded divisions, no one may enter or leave the galleries.


“Stranger” is a term of long-time use in the procedural lexicon; it refers to anyone who is not a Member or an official of the House of Commons (for example, Senators, diplomats, government officials, journalists or members of the general public). It underlines the distinction between Members and non‑Members and gives emphasis to the fact that strangers or outsiders may be present in the galleries or within the House precincts only under the authority of the House.[76] Strangers are not permitted on the floor of the House of Commons when the House is sitting.[77]

The right of the House to conduct its proceedings in private—that is, without strangers present—is centuries old. Until 1845 in the British House, sessional orders excluded strangers from every part of its premises (while in practice the presence of strangers came to be tolerated in areas not appropriated to the exclusive use of Members).[78] In Canada, at Confederation, the House adopted a rule giving individual Members the power to order the galleries to be cleared.[79] In 1876, the rule was substantially amended to allow Members only to move a motion “that strangers be ordered to withdraw”; this non‑debatable and non‑amendable motion was then left for the House to decide.[80] Since 1994, in addition to Members being allowed to move the motion, the Speaker has had the authority to order the withdrawal of strangers without putting the question to the House.[81] In practice such occurrences are not frequent and strangers are welcome so long as there is space to accommodate them and proper decorum is observed.

Disorder in the Galleries

The Sergeant‑at‑Arms, one of the senior officials of the House, is responsible for maintaining order and decorum in the galleries.[82] From time to time there have been instances of misconduct in the galleries and the Sergeant‑at‑Arms and security staff have acted to remove demonstrators or strangers behaving in a disruptive way.[83] In cases of extreme disorder, the Speaker has directed that the galleries be cleared.[84] In addition, should the House adopt the motion “That strangers be ordered to withdraw”, it would be the duty of the Sergeant‑at‑Arms and security staff to clear the galleries of strangers.

*   Lobbies

Adjacent to the government and opposition sides of the Chamber is a long, narrow room known as a lobby. The one behind the government benches is reserved for government Members; the other, on the opposition side, is for Members of the opposition parties. Connected by doors to the Chamber, the lobbies are furnished with tables and armchairs and equipped with telephones, fax machines, photocopiers, computer terminals and the like for Members’ use. Members attending the sitting of the House use the lobbies to converse, discuss matters, make telephone calls, attend to correspondence or other business and are able to return to the Chamber at a moment’s notice. The party Whips assign staff to work from the lobbies and pages are stationed in the lobbies to answer telephones and carry messages. The lobbies are not open to the public. The House of Commons security staff controls access to the lobbies in accordance with guidelines set by the Whips.

*   Sound Reinforcement, Simultaneous Interpretation, and Broadcasting Systems

In 1951, a special committee of the House recommended the installation of a sound reinforcement system “similar to the one in the House of Commons Chamber at Westminster”.[85] For some years, there had been complaints about the acoustics in the Chamber and the difficulty that Members and those in the galleries had in following the proceedings. The challenge in providing effective sound amplification lay in devising a system for use in an assembly where Members speak from their places (rather than from a rostrum) and only when recognized by the Speaker. The committee’s report was adopted; the system was installed during a recess and used for the first time in the session which opened on November 20, 1952.[86] Each Member’s desk, as well as the Speaker’s Chair, is equipped with a microphone. A microphone switching console, staffed by console operators, is located at the front of the gallery at the south end of the Chamber. Individual microphones are activated when a Member is recognized by the Speaker. Only the Speaker has the power to activate his or her own microphone (it may also be activated by the console operator); when the Speaker’s microphone is activated, the Members’ microphones will not function.

In 1958, the House agreed to the installation in the Chamber of a system for simultaneous interpretation in both official languages.[87] Members were of the opinion that this would give further expression to the Constitution, which provides for the equal status of the official languages and for their use in parliamentary debate.[88]

Enclosed booths for interpreters are located in the corners of the Chamber opposite the Speaker’s Chair. Members’ desks are equipped with interpretation devices in order to receive simultaneous interpretation of the proceedings into French or English. Visitors in the galleries also have access to the sound reinforcement and interpretation systems and may choose to listen to the proceedings with interpretation in the official language of their choice, or without interpretation.

In 1977, the House decided to televise its proceedings.[89] Following this decision, the Chamber became the site of extensive construction to equip it for this purpose. During the summer adjournment, the Chamber was refitted: the sound systems were upgraded, appropriate lighting installed, cameras were added (operated manually and later replaced with remote‑controlled cameras), and a control room was constructed above the Ladies’ Gallery situated at the south end of the Chamber.[90] In 2003, the House approved the broadcast of its proceedings over the Internet via the Parliament of Canada Web site.[91] Since then, sittings of the House, televised committee meetings, and the audio feed from non-televised committee meetings have been broadcast over the Internet.[92]

During the summer adjournment in 2003, significant upgrades to the technological equipment in the Chamber were installed. The broadcasting infrastructure was replaced, and a wireless simultaneous interpretation system for special events was added. Further improvements followed during the summer adjournment in 2004 when a new sound system and a new simultaneous interpretation system for the galleries were installed.[93]

Provision for Still Photography

Before the advent of broadcasting of House of Commons’ proceedings, photographs of the House during a sitting were taken with the permission of the House.[94] In the late 1970s, once the House had dealt with the question of broadcasting, the matter of still photography arose. There were no provisions for print media to take pictures of the House at work, except by special arrangement, whereas the electronic media now had access to images of every sitting of the House.[95] On a trial basis, and now standard practice,[96] a photographer was allowed behind the curtains on each side of the House during Question Period. The photographers are employed by a news service agency which supplies other news organizations under a pooling arrangement. When in the Chamber, they operate in accordance with the principles governing the use of television cameras, described in Chapter 24, “The Parliamentary Record”. Only these photographers, and the official photographers employed by the House of Commons, are authorized to take photographs of the Chamber while the House is in session; even Members are forbidden from taking photographs.[97]

*   Other Uses of the Chamber

At times, the House of Commons Chamber is used for purposes other than a parliamentary sitting. Some are recurring events such as addresses by distinguished visitors,[98] orientation sessions for new Members,[99] and educational and other programs.[100] At other times, the Chamber has been used for special events.[101] Since these events are not actually sittings of the House, the Mace is not on the Table.

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[30] The “History of Canada” series was begun in 1962 by Eleanor Milne and her team of stonecarvers, and completed in 1974. The Loyalists were American colonists of diverse ethnic backgrounds who supported the British cause during the American Revolution, and who left the United States at the end of the War of Independence or soon thereafter.

[31] Lobbies for the House and Senate were part of the design for the new Parliament Building constructed after the fire of 1916; the original building had no lobbies.

[32] A parade consisting of the Speaker, the Sergeant-at-Arms with the Mace, the Clerk of the House and other House officials. For further information on the Speaker’s Parade, see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”.

[33] The predominance of the colour red in the Senate Chamber and the British House of Lords can be explained by its history as a royal colour used in the room where the Sovereign met his Court and nobles, as was the case in Parliament’s earliest days. The association of the colour green with the Commons is not so easily determined. The colour green has been linked to the Commons’ meeting places at least since 1663 (date of the first authoritative written reference to green in the House of Commons). See Davies, J.M., “Red and Green”, The Table, Vol. XXXVII, 1968, pp. 33‑40 as well as United Kingdom, House of Commons, “House of Commons Green”, Factsheet G10,, 2006.

[34] The windows were a special project, undertaken in 1967 by Speaker Lamoureux to mark Canada’s centennial. They were designed by Dominion Sculptor Eleanor Milne. The project was completed in 1973. See Canada, House of Commons, The Stained Glass Windows of Canada’s House of Commons, Ottawa: published under the authority of the Speaker of the House of Commons. See also Debates, September 7, 1971, p. 7545.

[35] This 11‑year project, completed in 1985, was undertaken by Dominion Sculptor Eleanor Milne and her team. On the east wall are featured civil law, freedom of speech, the Senate, the Governor General, Confederation, and the vote; on the west wall are bilingualism, education, the House of Commons, taxation, criminal law and communication. See Milne, R.E., Captured in Stone: Carving Canada’s Past, with K.B. Lambert and E. Moore, Manotick, Ontario: Penumbra Press, 2002.

[36] If a Member is unable to occupy a desk due to a disability or physical restriction (such as a wheelchair), the desk may be altered or removed. See Standing Order 1.1, which permits the Speaker to make such arrangements as may be required to allow Members with disabilities to perform their duties.

[37] This is said to have originated with the formation of political parties and party government. In the Parliaments of seventeenth century Britain, according to Redlich, the division into right and left was “quite unknown”. For information on the origins of this and other traditions associated with seating in the British House, see Redlich, J., The Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form, Vol. II, translated by A.E. Steinthal, New York: AMS Press, 1969 (reprint of 1908 ed.), pp. 23‑7.

[38] This relates to times gone by in the British House. Members in the British House no longer wear swords, but red lines marked on the carpet two swords’ length apart still serve as a reminder to seek resolutions by peaceful means.

[39] In response to a point of order, Speaker Parent explained the process followed in assigning seats to parties and stated: “There is no such thing as a bad seat in the House of Commons” (Debates, September 30, 1998, pp. 8584‑5). For further information on the assignment of seats, see Chapter 4, “The House of Commons and Its Members”.

[40] Seating plans for the House indicate that at one time the Speaker, a government Member, was assigned a desk on the government side near the Chair. It appears the practice was discontinued in the Thirty‑First Parliament (1979) when, following a change of government, Speaker Jerome was elected to a second term, becoming the first opposition Member to be nominated by the governing party to preside over the House.

[41] This design element may be related to the fact that the Chair is a replica of the original Speaker’s Chair at Westminster, which is also raised above floor level. In St. Stephen’s Chapel, the home of the British Commons from 1547 to 1834, the Speaker’s Chair was located atop the steps leading to the altar.

[42] In 1973, the House adopted a motion authorizing the Speaker to “display the Canadian Flag in the House of Commons in such location as he chooses” (Journals, February 14, 1973, p. 119). With the exception of the tenure of Speaker Parent (1994-2001) when the flag was displayed on both sides of the Chair, Speakers have chosen to display one flag to the right of the Chair.

[43] Debates, May 20, 1921, p. 3691.

[44] Journals, June 8, 1920, p. 324; Debates, May 20, 1921, pp. 3689‑96.

[45] The lift was installed in 1981 during the tenure of Speaker Sauvé (1980‑84).

[46] At one point, there was both a television monitor and a computer screen at the foot of the Chair. At the beginning of the Thirty-Seventh Parliament (2001‑04), a single computer screen was installed combining the functions of the previous two screens.

[47] See Speaker Jerome’s comments about the Page Program, Debates, March 22, 1978, pp. 4026‑7; October 10, 1978, p. 6953.

[48] The portraits are normally commissioned before a Speaker leaves office, but hung only after a Speaker has left office. An unveiling ceremony is held when a new portrait is added to the collection.

[49] The Table, with its elaborately carved base, was designed by John A. Pearson, who, along with Jean‑Omer Marchand, also designed the reconstructed Centre Block.

[50] In keeping with a long-established practice, Table Officers produce a scroll for every sitting day. This is a handwritten record of proceedings in the House and is used to produce the Journals.

[51] The calendar stand, inkstand and seal press are the handiwork of ironmaster Paul Beau. They were placed on the Table in 1926 to replace items lost in the fire of 1916 (Debates, May 26, 1926, p. 3731). For a description of their design, see Journals, May 28, 1926, pp. 364‑5. Mr. Beau was also responsible for many of the ironwork items found elsewhere in the Centre Block. See Pepall, R., Paul Beau, Montreal: Musée des beaux‑arts de Montréal, 1982.

[52] The Mace developed from the club (prehistoric weapon) and the staff (ancient symbol of age, wisdom and authority). See Grant‑Dalton, E., “The Mace”, The Table, Vol. XXV, 1956, pp. 15‑20; Thorne, P., “Maces: Their Use and Significance”, The Parliamentarian, Vol. 44, January 1963, pp. 25‑30. It is said that the mace rather than the sword was carried into battle by the medieval warrior bishops, in conformity with canonical rule forbidding priests to shed blood (Beauchesne, Canada’s Parliament Building: The Senate and House of Commons, Ottawa, p. 55).

[53] May, T.E., Erskine May’s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 23rd ed., edited by Sir W. McKay, London: LexisNexis UK, 2004, pp. 156‑7.

[54] At this time, the British Commons was at the start of its centuries‑long struggle to assert and win the privileges essential to establishing its distinct role in Parliament. In the Ferrers case of 1543, the House of Commons successfully challenged the City of London authorities, securing the release of an arrested Member (Ferrers) “by their Serjeant without writ, only by shew of his mace, which was his warrant”. See the account in Hatsell, J., Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons, Vol. I, South Hackensack, New Jersey: Rothman Reprints Inc., 1971 (reprint of 4th ed., 1818), pp. 53‑9. See also Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.

[55] The legislative assemblies of the other provinces joining Confederation did not use maces (Bourinot, J.G., Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, 2nd ed., rev. and enlarged, Montreal: Dawson Brothers, Publishers, 1892, pp. 277‑8, note 5). Nova Scotia and New Brunswick obtained maces in 1930 and 1937 respectively. In Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), maces were used in the houses of assembly from the time of their first meetings in 1792.

[56] Bourinot, 2nd ed., pp. 277‑8, note 5.

[57] McDonough, J., “The History of the Maces of the British and Canadian Parliaments”, Canadian Regional Review: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Vol. II, No. 2, June 1979, p. 29.

[58] Journals, May 16, 1917, p. 216. For a description of the design of the Mace, see Debates, May 16, 1917, pp. 1468‑9. See also Wilding, N. and Laundy, P., An Encyclopaedia of Parliament, 4th ed., London: Cassell & Company Ltd., 1972, pp. 455‑6 for information on maces in other Commonwealth Parliaments.

[59] See, for example, Debates, February 3, 2005, p. 3011. The tradition began in 1961 during the tenure of Speaker Michener (1957-62) (Debates, February 3, 1961, p. 1701), and was revived by Speaker Jerome in 1977 (Debates, February 3, 1977, p. 2665).

[60] United Kingdom, House of Commons, “The Mace in the House of Commons”, House of Commons Library Document No. 3, London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1957, p. 7. See also Hatsell, Vol. II, p. 141.

[61] Standing Order 157(1).

[62] The Mace is left on the Table whenever a sitting is suspended for a short period of time; however, during an emergency such as a fire alarm, the Sergeant-at-Arms removes it from the Chamber.

[63] This long‑standing custom may have originated in the Elizabethan period, when the large committees of the time began to meet in the Chamber as an alternative to less convenient locations outside the precinct. The position of the Mace—on the Table or below it—would have provided a clear indication as to whether Members were sitting as a House or as a committee (“The Mace in the House of Commons”, pp. 9‑10).

[64] For further information on this custom, see Chapter 13, “Rules of Order and Decorum”.

[65] Debates, October 30, 1991, pp. 4269‑70; October 31, 1991, pp. 4271‑85, 4309‑10; April 22, 2002, pp. 10654‑70; April 23, 2002, pp. 10747‑8; April 24, 2002, p. 10770. For further information, see the section below, “The Bar of the House”.

[66] In 1642, in a conflict over the respective rights and authority of the monarch and the British Parliament, Charles I issued a warrant for the arrest of five Members of the British House of Commons. The King himself went to the Commons Chamber, crossed the Bar—the first and last monarch to do so—and took the Speaker’s Chair, demanding the presence of the five Members. The King’s intentions were foiled by Speaker Lenthall whose famous words (“May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here, and I humbly beg Your Majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what Your Majesty is pleased to demand of me”) established the precedence of the privileges of the Commons over the authority of the Crown (Wilding and Laundy, 4th ed., pp. 708‑9).

When the House sits as a Committee of the Whole, typically two departmental officials are permitted onto the floor of the House in order to assist the Minister. Members requiring assistance in the Chamber due to a disability may also have an aide present on the floor of the House. See Standing Order 1.1.

[67] On October 30, 1991, angry at having missed a vote, Ian Waddell (Port Moody–Coquitlam) attempted to take hold of the Mace as it was borne out of the Chamber at the end of the sitting. The Member’s actions were judged to be an attempt to obstruct the House, as well as a challenge to the Chair’s authority to adjourn the sitting. A prima facie breach of privilege was found and a motion was adopted calling the Member to the Bar to be admonished by the Speaker (Debates, October 30, 1991, pp. 4269‑70; October 31, 1991, pp. 4271‑85, 4309‑10). On April 17, 2002, angry with the outcome of a vote on his private Member’s bill, Keith Martin (Esquimalt–Juan de Fuca) took hold of the Mace. This action was considered to be in contempt of the House and a prima facie breach of privilege was found (Debates, April 22, 2002, pp. 10654-70). On April 23, 2002, the House adopted a motion calling not only for the Member to appear at the Bar of the House, but also to apologize for his actions (Journals, pp. 1337-8). The next day, Mr. Martin appeared at the Bar and apologized to the House (Journals, April 24, 2002, p. 1341, Debates, p. 10770).

[68] For further information, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”.

[69] On March 1, 2002, a motion was adopted by unanimous consent calling for a former Member of Parliament, Herb Gray, to appear at the Bar to hear remarks by one representative of each party, and to respond to them (Journals, p. 1149). On March 13, 2002, Mr. Gray appeared at the Bar and Members paid tribute to his long service as a Member of Parliament (Journals, p. 1171, Debates, pp. 9588-93).

[70] At one time the Ladies’ Gallery was reserved for women (who tended to be the wives and daughters of Members), as is the Ladies’ Gallery in the British House. See Wilding and Laundy, 4th ed., p. 424; Redlich, Vol. II, pp. 22, 35.

[71] The Parliamentary Press Gallery is a non‑profit corporation whose membership comprises journalists assigned by media organizations to cover Parliament.

[72] All persons going into the galleries must first go through a security screening station.

[73] For further information on the recognition of visitors in the galleries, see Chapter 7, “The Speaker and Other Presiding Officers of the House”.

[74] On Wednesdays, the doors are not opened until after the prayers are read and the national anthem has been sung.

[75] In March 1997, the House was made aware that an Aboriginal visitor carrying an eagle feather had been refused admission to the public galleries. The House took note of the sacred character of the eagle feather for Aboriginal peoples, and the Speaker stated that it is permissible for an Aboriginal person to bring an eagle feather into the House (Debates, March 12, 1997, pp. 8946, 8954‑5).

[76] For further information on the authority of the House over its precincts, see Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities”. When it came to the attention of the House in June 1998 that Ernst Zündel (notorious for having published his claims that the Holocaust never occurred) had been granted use of the Centre Block press conference facility managed by the Parliamentary Press Gallery (Debates, June 4, 1998, pp. 7608‑9, 7616), the House agreed that, for the remainder of the session, Mr. Zündel would be denied admission to the House of Commons precinct (Journals, June 4, 1998, p. 937). In October 2007, the House adopted a similar motion denying admittance to the precincts of the House for the remainder of the parliamentary session to two representatives of a white supremacy organization who had planned to hold a press conference in the Centre Block (Journals, October 17, 2007, p. 12).

[77] There have been rare exceptions. In 1944, the House twice agreed to permit the Minister of National Defence, who was newly appointed and not an elected Member, to address the House during a sitting (Journals, November 23, 1944, p. 926; November 24, 1944, p. 928). In addition, the House met in a secret session at which the Minister was present and participated (Journals, November 28, 1944, p. 931, Debates, p. 6634). In 2007, when the House met in a Committee of the Whole to consider emergency legislation, 10 witnesses were seated at a table on the floor of the Chamber. Some of the witnesses made statements and answered questions (Journals, December 11, 2007, pp. 295‑6, Debates, pp. 2049‑78). In 2008, pursuant to two Special Orders adopted by the House, the House met in a Committee of the Whole and guests representing the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples were permitted on the floor of the Chamber to hear the Prime Minister’s statement of apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools and the responses of the leaders of the opposition parties. Five of the representatives were also permitted to make statements in response to the apology. See Journals, June 10, 2008, p. 952; June 11, 2008, pp. 963‑4, Debates, pp. 6849‑57. Moreover, since 2005, a Member with a disability has required the presence of an aide in the Chamber. See Standing Order 1.1.

On several occasions, the House has sat as a Committee of the Whole in order to receive Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes onto the floor of the Chamber to be recognized for their achievements. See Journals, October 1, 1996, p. 699, Debates, pp. 4944‑6; Journals, April 22, 1998, p. 691, Debates, pp. 5959‑60; Journals, April 15, 2002, p. 1288, Debates, p. 10394; Journals, November 1, 2004, p. 174, Debates, pp. 1011-2.

[78] For historical background, see May, T.E., A Treatise Upon the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, South Hackensack, New Jersey: Rothman Reprints Inc., 1971 (reprint of 1st ed., 1844), pp. 163‑4; A Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings, and Usage of Parliament, 5th ed., rev. and enlarged, London: Butterworths, 1863, pp. 238‑40; Redlich, Vol. II, pp. 34‑5.

[79] Rules and Forms of Proceedings of the House of Commons of Canada, 1868, Rule 6. See Debates, March 27, 1871, col. 655, for an example of its use.

[80] Debates, March 29, 1876, p. 905. No such motion has ever been adopted, although attempts have been made. See, for example, Journals, September 7, 1950, p. 38; Debates, April 4, 1990, pp. 10186‑7. In the 1990 example, Speaker Fraser ruled that a Member could not propose the motion on a point of order.

[81] Standing Order 14 (Journals, June 10, 1994, p. 563).

[82] Standing Orders 157(2) and 158.

[83] For example, on May 2, 2001, two demonstrators unfurled a banner in the galleries and tossed stuffed animals onto the floor of the House. Security staff took the initiative to remove the demonstrators before an objection was raised in the House. The RCMP later charged the demonstrators with causing a disturbance. On March 13, 2008 during the taking of a vote on a motion to extend Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan, 26 visitors in one of the galleries stood up and began chanting in protest to the motion. Security staff advised the demonstrators to leave the gallery and they did so without incident.

[84] See, for example, Debates, May 11, 1970, p. 6796; November 28, 1989, pp. 6342‑3. On October 18, 1990, a question of privilege was raised accusing a Member of complicity in a demonstration in the galleries on the previous day, when some 20 individuals identified as students had shouted and pelted Members with macaroni and messages of protest before being escorted from the galleries by security staff (Debates, pp. 14359‑68). The Speaker ruled out the allegation of complicity, but found a prima facie breach of privilege in the demonstration. The matter was referred to committee, which recommended that participants in such demonstrations be charged or otherwise punished for their actions (Journals, November 6, 1990, p. 2228, Debates, pp. 15177‑81; Journals, March 6, 1991, pp. 2666‑7). For the text of the report, see Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections, Minutes of Proceedings and Evidence, March 6, 1991, Issue No. 39, pp. 3‑8. The report was not taken up by the House.

[85] The development of the system in the British House was watched with interest. See reports tabled by the Speaker in Journals, December 5, 1947, pp. 7, 30‑2; March 15, 1951, pp. 177‑9. The special committee’s report was presented to the House and adopted on June 19, 1951 (Journals, pp. 517‑8).

[86] Journals, February 29, 1952, p. 9 (tabling of an Order in Council authorizing the Minister of Public Works to contract for the supply, installation and operation of a sound system); Debates, June 25, 1952, p. 3732 (questioning of the Minister in Committee of Supply); November 21, 1952, p. 11; November 26, 1952, p. 123 (Members’ comments on the new system).

[87] Journals, August 11, 1958, p. 402.

[88] See Debates, August 11, 1958, pp. 3331‑40. See also Debates, November 25, 1957, pp. 1456‑99.

[89] Journals, January 25, 1977, p. 287.

[90] See the Speaker’s statement when the House began broadcasting its proceedings (Debates, October 17, 1977, pp. 8201‑2).

[91] See the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915) and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995), par. 23 to 30.

[92] The subject of broadcasting as an “electronic Hansard” is addressed in Chapter 24, “The Parliamentary Record”.

[93] In an effort to meet possible future needs, an electronic voting infrastructure was also installed, although such technology has not yet been required by the House. For further information on the upgrades which took place during the summer adjournments of 2003 and 2004, see the Fourth Report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, presented to the House on June 12, 2003 (Journals, p. 915) and concurred in on September 18, 2003 (Journals, p. 995), par. 16 to 22.

[94] See, for example, the Special Order adopted on May 11, 1961 (Journals, p. 535). On another occasion, when a Member objected, the Speaker sought the consent of the House for photographs to be taken during a sitting (Debates, November 27, 1964, p. 10597; December 17, 1964, p. 11263). In January 1967, the Speaker wrote to all Members, informing them of arrangements made in consultation with the House Leaders for photographs to be taken of the House in session.

[95] Debates, October 24, 1979, p. 557.

[96] Debates, January 25, 1983, p. 22194.

[97] Members have been warned by the Chair not to take photographs while the House is in session (Debates, December 7, 1999, pp. 2419-20; February 29, 2000, p. 4151; April 22, 2004, p. 2298; April 26, 2004, p. 2394; April 27, 2004, p. 2469). See also Debates, October 31, 2007, p. 624.

[98] From time to time, the House of Commons Chamber is the site for an address by a distinguished visitor to assembled Senators and Members. In order for such a meeting to take place, the House first adopts a motion to that effect. See, for example, Journals, October 8, 2004, p. 75; May 5, 2006, pp. 134-5. When a joint address takes place, an established protocol is followed. It does not constitute a sitting of the House and the House is not in session. For further information on joint addresses to members of both Houses, see Chapter 9, “Sittings of the House”.

[99] Orientation sessions are provided to Members following a general election, and before the opening of Parliament. They have been held in the Chamber following each general election since 1993, with the exception of the orientation session in 2004, which was held in a reception room in the West Block due to renovations that were taking place in the Chamber.

[100] For example: The Teachers’ Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, a professional development seminar held annually since 1996; the annual meetings of the Forum for Young Canadians, a program operated by the non‑profit Foundation for the Study of Processes of Government in Canada for secondary school aged students to learn about the workings of government and the responsibilities of citizenship; Model Parliaments for various Canadian universities; and the annual swearing‑in ceremony for the pages.

[101] In 1921, Senators and Members assembled in the House of Commons Chamber for a ceremony to receive the Speaker’s Chair, a gift to replace the Chair lost in the fire of 1916. The gathering was not a sitting of the House and the Mace was not laid on the Table. When the House sat later the same day, Special Orders were adopted to prefix the remarks made at the ceremony to that day’s Debates (Journals, May 20, 1921, pp. 305‑6).

Sessions were held in the House of Commons Chamber when the Parliament of Canada hosted the XIth and XVIIIth General Assemblies of the Association internationale des parlementaires de langue française in 1980 and 1991 respectively, the XXVth General Assembly of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie in 1999, and the inaugural meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas in 2001.

In 1996, Senators and Members past and present gathered in the Chamber and galleries to witness a ceremony unveiling the first of a series of plaques commemorating the service of individual parliamentarians since Confederation. The event was not a sitting of the House. (The ceremony was televised but the official documents contain no written record; see references in Debates, May 29, 1996, pp. 3124, 3133.)

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